Author: Melody Menu
Parramasala featuring Tinariwen, Saturday March 10.
The annual Parramasala arts festival has grown to become a celebration of more than 30 nationalities and cultures the world over, in what is heralded as Australia’s most culturally diverse population. And there is no better way to embrace the multiculturalism of Sydney’s West than with a colourful melting pot of music, arts, culture and dance.
Hindi pop music blared from the main stage as we arrived, the air alight with the sights and smells of various food trucks and stalls crowded around Parramatta’s Prince Alfred Square. The promise of North African group Tinariwen electrified the night – the band who would be playing to a sold-out crowd at The Factory Theatre the following week playing for free at this inclusive and family-friendly event feeling like a sheer privilege.
In the lead up to their set, we had plenty of things to amuse ourselves, with paper lea-making; professional henna tattoos doused in glitter; yoga accompanied by classical music; and food, glorious food.
After visiting each food stall to weigh up our options, we settled on the old reliable of all food festivals, the humble Turkish gözleme, as well as a large Indian Thali, all washed down with pure sugarcane juice, the likes of which was incredible to watch as the machine pulverised the cane to extract its juices.
Perched on a gazebo, we devoured our meal while families reclined and children played together. The Thali curry plate was a winner, with a deliciously oily lamb curry, as well as fragrant dal matched with cucumber pieces and rice. A single cardamom-spiced gulab jamun for dessert was also a nice touch, dripping in rosewater.
A large crowd had already gathered for Tinariwen, with masses of chairs leaning back into the heart of the festival, an open space in front for kids to play and run around in, and a swathe of grass in-between. We opted to sit on the grass, and were greeted with a fantastic view of the stage, and of the hubub of activity below, with kids playing and blowing bubbles towards the stage.
Resplendent in gold and white, Tinariwen cut exceptional figures on stage, as they performed songs from their 2017 album Elwan and across their seven-album back catalogue. The depth of their harmonies was Earth-shattering in its power and intensity, and made for a spectacularly moving performance.
The Grammy Award-winning and stadium-filling band left no-one guessing as to how their fame had seen them play shows all over the world, with their reverential songs sung in the traditional Berber language of Tamasheq a true thing of beauty. Singer and guitarist Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni was a highlight of the performance, a celebration of feeling and movement through dance, as he manoeuvred the stage in stunning full-length robes. Every so often, his dance would pick up, egging on the beat and energising the crowd.
Gradually, a larger mass of people had replaced the young children at the front of the stage, joined together in movement and song like some psychedelic church. The diversity of the crowd, coupled with the complete respect which was shared by all, made for a life-affirming experience of unity and inclusivity. Parramasala’s website states that 70% of festival attendees were born outside Australia, and they were all there that night with their families and friends.
The sheer diversity exhibited among the crowd was inspiring and heart-warming, as hundreds of people danced and cheered, the power of music crossing borders of language and culture. As a group of elderly Japanese women passed me to seek out the front row, throwing up their hands to the beat, the enlivening aspect of truly heartfelt music was captured in a single perfect moment.